Economies around the world are reforming their tertiary education systems to ensure competitiveness in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This refers to the evolution of disruptive technologies, such as artificial intelligence and the internet of things, which is enhancing connectivity and transforming the demands on the global labour market.
In response, senator Win Gatchalian proposed Senate Bill No. 1355, the Philippine Innovation Act, in February 2017. The act calls on the government to “place innovation at the centre of its development policies” and involves the creation of a national innovation council chaired by the president. By June 2019 the act had been approved by both houses of Congress and was awaiting the approval of President Rodrigo Duterte to become law.
To keep pace with new technologies and promote continuous innovation, UNESCO recommends that developing countries spend 1% of GDP on research and development (R&D). However, between 2002 and 2013 – the most recent year for which data is available – the proportion of the Philippines’ GDP spent on these activities ranged from 0.11% to 0.14%. In December 2017 the Philippine Institute for Development Studies estimated that the figure had not yet broken the 0.2% barrier.
The Philippine Development Plan 2017-22 aims to increase R&D spending to 0.5% of GDP by 2022, in addition to boosting the number of researchers, scientists and engineers from 270 per 1m of the population to 300. Within ASEAN, high-income Singapore ranks first for R&D spending as a percentage of GDP, at 2.1%, and has around 7250 researchers per 1m residents. Malaysia, in second place, spends 1.13%, with 2590 researchers per 1m people.
Cultivating the human capital needed for an innovation-led economy begins with the education system. Most importantly, there is a need for greater linkages between academia and industry, as well as progress in the fields of science and engineering. In the past decade schools in the tertiary education sector have become more proactive in developing links with employers, with some universities now allocating two semesters for students to learn from industry partners. In this vein, employability is emerging as an increasingly important metric upon which school performance is measured, and relationships with industry partners are key to higher graduate employment rates.
The Commission on Higher Education has held partnership-building events since 2016 to bring together businesses and governmental agencies to promote academic linkages. One example of such partnerships is the programme established between IBM and Taguig City University. This focuses on mentoring in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics to help prepare students for a career in these rapidly changing areas. Furthermore, graduates who have participated in the programme will be fasttracked through the interview process for positions at partner companies. Likewise, the Industry-Academe Linkage office at De La Salle University in Manila facilitates industry internships for students in the College of Engineering, and works with companies and industrial associations to keep its programmes responsive to economic needs.
Although these linkages may be improving students’ preparedness to enter their fields upon graduation, gaps still highlighted by employers include proficiency in business English. Another reported limitation is that a high number of Filipino graduates lack prior work experience. Indeed, for many students, their job after graduation will be their first time undertaking paid work, as it is not common to be employed during one’s studies. In addition to practising formal English, work experience teaches critical soft skills required by employers, such as punctuality, problem solving and being a team player.